Aston American band the slants were denied trademark registration by the American Trademarks and patents office on the grounds that the name may cause offence to Asians. The band are now in the process of arguing against that decisions, contesting that this is contrary to their 1st amendment rights.
Similarly in 2014 the Trademark office cancelled the 'Redskins' trademark, expressing that the name is offensive to native americans.
Founder of the Slants Simon Tam says the aim is indeed the opposite, and that it is intact to "reclaim a derisive slur and transform it into a badge of ethnic pride". Which was rejected by the Trademark office who asserted that the term is inherently offensive and incapable of signifying anything positive. However, a federal court ruled in the bands favour in stating that the decision by the trademark office violated the band's 1st amendment rights.
The matter has progressed on to the Supreme Court with a ruling expected on the 1st of June.
In a statement released by Billboard, Simon Tam says:
I'm confident that the Supreme Court will stand by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's decision in finding viewpoint discrimination through trademark registration unconstitutional.
What many people forget is that this process all started with the government denying me rights based on my race: even in court, the government agreed that our racial identities provided the context for "The Slants" to be a racial slur rather than any other possible definition for the word. In other words, the government alluded that anyone could register "The Slants" if they had the right context - or in this instance, if they were of the right race. That's simply wrong. It perpetuates institutional racism.
I've spent almost 8 years in court - almost a quarter of my life - so that I could fight for marginalized communities to have their voices protected. Voices that are often silenced in fear of a football team regaining their trademark registrations. Our obsession to punish villainous characters should not justify the collateral damage that the undeserved experience. Part of taking up the cost was possibly being forever associated with a team who I find disagreeable, but it was for the greater good of justice. Being the target of both white supremacist groups and even a few organizations that normally support my work will all be worth it if it means a more equitable society.
I hope that our case encourages others towards having robust conversations of racial justice in order to create better law.
This raises an interesting discussion on whether freedom of expression should be absolute. What are your thoughts ?